By: S.L. Frisbie, IV for Polk News-Sun
S.L. Frisbie IV Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame Member, 4th-Generation Polk County Newspaper Publisher
In my 30 years of service in the Florida National Guard, my most memorable summer camp was in 1967.
The year would go down in history as the “Long Hot Summer” and for members of the Florida National Guard, it would be an experience like no other.
Our convoys were en route to Fort Stewart, Ga., when Gov. Claude Kirk decided to keep “his troops” in Florida in case they were needed to respond to incidents of civil unrest — rioting by any other name — that were sweeping the country.
Although he arguably was not one of Florida’s great governors, Kirk’s decision to keep the Guard at home, sending them to a little known World War II training base called Camp Blanding, had a lasting impact on the state, the Guard, and that facility.
Convoy commanders pulled out their road maps to see exactly where Camp Blanding, Fla., was located, and the small contingent of full-time Guardsmen at the post began preparing for the arrival of thousands of troops the next day.
The first week’s training schedule was scrapped, and lieutenants studied crowd control measures each night to prepare classes they would teach the next day.
As a newly-promoted captain, I became a clerk-typist so that the young soldier whose place I took could attend riot control classes. (I had received some crowd control training in ROTC, and would receive more in correspondence courses that career officers are required to complete.)
A major goal is to restore order with minimal risk of injury to all concerned.
In addition to being a reserve of the armed forces, Guardsmen are the militia in each state, subject to the call of the governor.
By definition, the militia is a body of citizen-soldiers — not members of the active Army — who can respond on short notice to a crisis within their state.
Expanding on that definition, the Guard is a group of organized, disciplined citizen-soldiers who can be mobilized when local law enforcement is overwhelmed, and help restore order and protect life and property.
Whether the challenge is riot control, preparing to provide relief from ravages of nature, or maintaining order in the face of labor conflicts, the Guard can be mobilized in a matter of hours to meet the mission.
Been there, done that.
Federal law generally favors action by the militia — the Guard’s state mission — to the assignment of federal troops to respond to crises in a state.
The Insurrection Act of 1807 and the Posse Comitatus Act of 1879 set forth the concepts. Amendments to both have obscured the original intent; there have been exceptions, and exceptions to the exceptions, and occasional outright violations.
The basic premise, as I understand it, is that in times of crisis, Americans would rather rely on the citizen-soldiers from their own communities, acting at the direction of their governors, than on federal troops sent in by the president.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired, both from journalism and from a second career in the Florida National Guard. He treasures memories of both.)
Reprinted with permission from Polk News-Sun